Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 7/3/04 w/ Additional Edits.
One of the greatest films of all-time that's been imitated but never duplicated, The Godfather based on Mario Puzo's novel is one of the greatest crime stories ever told. Unlike previous mob films in the age of cinema, the film was entirely about family rather than crime. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola from a script he co-wrote with Puzo, The Godfather is in some ways a family tragedy about a don and his relationship with crime and his family and how tries to balance his role as family and crime boss. Starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, John Cazale, and many more. The Godfather is a classic film that remains a landmark in American cinema as it inspired generations of actors and filmmakers to rethink the landscape of filmmaking.
The Godfather begins with a story of Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) at the wedding of his daughter Connie (Talia Shire) to Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo) in post-World War II 1940s. After conducting business with an undertaker named Bonasera (Salvatore Corsitto), Don Corleone returns to the wedding reception with wife (Morgana King), sons Sonny (James Caan) and Fredo (John Cazale), and his adopted son/advisor Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall). The don is awaiting the arrival of his youngest son Michael (Al Pacino) who arrives with girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton). The wedding was a wonderful ceremony where Kay learns about what Don Corleone does but Michael insists, he's not a part of the crime thing.
The Corleone's business may be a mob business where Tom Hagen visits film producer Jack Woltz (John Marley) to convince him to have Johnny Fontane (Al Martino) to be in a film with an offer he couldn't refuse. Don Corleone may be a man of crime but his business is only to help people but when a fellow mob rival named Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) wants to make business-involving drugs, the Don refuses. The Don sends Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana) to talk with Sollozzo but things go wrong when an assassination attempt on Corleone leaves him wounded and Tom Hagen being kidnapped. Upon Hagen's return, Michael visits his father learning that he's in danger as he tries to move him but gets in trouble with corrupt police captain McCluskey (Sterling Hayden). With help from the Don's right hand men Clemenza (Richard Castellano) and Tessio (Abe Vigoda), Michael decides to meet with Sollozzo and McCluskey where he kills them both.
With Michael out of the country in Siciliy and the Don at home but still wounded, it's up to the hot-headed Sonny to run things but his temper would lead him to trouble where Michael, upon returning from Sicily after a brief marriage to a woman named Apollonia (Simonetta Stefanelli), takes over. He realizes that Tattaglia (Tony Giorgio), Moe Greene (Alex Rocco), and Barzini (Richard Conte) are trying to overpower the Corleone family. Michael knew he has to take control even with the Don's decline where he would have to confront his foes in order to move the family out.
What makes The Godfather such a vastly powerful film is Coppola's subtle, wandering direction where he lets the cameras flow with such grace in its dramatic, intimate sequences while being a bit more stylized and extreme in its violent nature. The screenplay by Puzo and Coppola definitely plays up to a great Shakespearean tragedy but in a modern, American context where the nature of the story balances between crime and family drama. Easily one of the greatest adapted scripts ever written in film not for its dramatic structure but also, its catchy one-liners that is both philosophical and witty. Complementing Coppola's vision is a lush, Italian-regality look from cinematographer Gordon Willis who brings a Goth-like look in the more interior scenes while capturing more color with real-time look in the Sicilian scenes. Helping Willis in its looks is longtime Coppola-associate Dean Tavoularis for his detailing of 1940s America with lovely art direction from Warren Clymer and costume design from Anna Hill Johnstone. Another memorable moment about The Godfather is its famous score of woodwinds and arrangements from Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola's score for the wedding suite.
Then there's the film's wonderful cast of actors from the smaller roles of characters from John Marley, Salvatore Corsitto, Alex Rocco, Richard Conte, Tony Giorgio, Lenny Montana, Al Lettieri, Lenny Montana, and Gianni Russo. There is no bad performance in that film. Talia Shire's role as the abused Connie is sympathetic and harrowing to watch and towards the final act of the film, we begin to see how damaged she is that would lead to darker textures in the upcoming series of The Godfather trilogy. Diane Keaton brings a strong supporting performance as Kay; a woman who is reluctant to enter the world of the mob is understandable as we see her become the moral cornerstone that Michael would later neglect. Abe Vigoda and Richard Castellano are excellent in their performances as Don Corleone's right hand men while John Cazale is amazing as the sweet but weak Fredo whose character comes more into fruition in the second film.
Robert Duvall is brilliant as Tom Hagen, although not a son by blood, who serves as the intellectual side of Don Corleone while brings a moral guidance in the business of the mob while knowing his role in the family. James Caan is amazing as the temperamental Sonny as someone who just wants to do things his way but keeps forgetting to do things right. While he makes his character someone we care about in family matters, we see how he is doomed due to his angry nature. Al Pacino is the film's best supporting performance as a reluctant son who starts off innocent but when he descends into the mob world for revenge of his father's attempted murder, he evolves into someone darker. By the film's second half, we see that he becomes colder and more sinister where he begins to lose sight as who is which continues through the second film.
Finally, we have Marlon Brando in a performance that was regarded as a comeback at the time the film came out in the spring of 1972. While his performances like On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, Guys & Dolls, and The Wild One were classics; his roles had been erratic and strange until he returned to form in The Godfather. His performance of Don Corleone wasn't just one of the most complex performances he did but he brought a character that was likeable despite what he does for a living. Brando brings a presence that is charming as he makes Don Corleone a man that has flaws but you can forgive him for that. Brando brings a moralistic intelligence to his performance with his great one-liners along with his regrets and sadness that makes his role of the Godfather one of the greatest performances of all-time. It's clearly one of his greatest performances that would follow with Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris and Coppola's 1979 Vietnam film Apocalypse Now where after that, Brando became a legend with methods that were unsound. Despite his behavior, Brando is just an actor who will continue to inspire many, even with his recent passing.
In the end, The Godfather is just an undisputed classic that everyone will seem to love. It has romance, violence, wit, and drama that have something for everyone. For Francis Ford Coppola, it's one of his greatest films while on the IMDB poll, is still the # 1 film of all-time. For many of the actors, it would be a role that would give them newfound attention and make new legends in Pacino, Keaton, Caan, and Duvall while for Brando; it was the role that would define his legend. Thirty-two years since its release, The Godfather is a film that just doesn't die since its release and it's a film everyone must see.
Francis Ford Coppola Films: Dementia 13 - (You're A Big Boy Now) - (Finian's Rainbow) - (The Rain People) - The Conversation - The Godfather Pt. II - Apocalypse Now/Apocalypse Now Redux - One from the Heart - (The Outsiders) - Rumble Fish - The Cotton Club - (Peggy Sue Got Married) - (Garden of Stone) - (Tucker: The Man & His Dream) - New York Stories - The Godfather Pt. III - Bram Stoker's Dracula - (Jack) - (The Rainmaker) - (Youth Without Youth) - Tetro - (Twixt)
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